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I wanted to look back at the Main Event information to address a specific question. All Main Event owners (OK, most Main Event owners except Phil Dussault, Tyler Jung, Emmett Ruland, Brian Slack, Clark Olson, and Alan Mitchell) struggle with the decision of how much FAAB to bid early on potentially valuable additions. Similar to many fantasy baseball leagues, all Main Event owners are awarded $1000 FAAB to commence the season. But how much is best to commit early? It’s time for a closer look.

The question at hand is: Does early heavy free-agent acquisition lead to strong, weak, or no change in the fantasy finish?

  • Those who are in favor of big acquisitions early cite the fact that they are obtaining a potentially valuable fantasy asset early in the season – and can conceivably get a full season from that player. In addition, many owners spend over the first few weeks so they are not at a major disadvantage in spending for very long.
  • Those opposed say that they can do better by spreading out their acquisitions and get more players over the course of the season at lower price points.

I, therefore, decided to identify the big early acquisitions and look at the fantasy finish of the teams that spent the heaviest on those players – where did they finish?

Identifying the 2021 Big Early Acquisitions

I wanted to examine the big additions that were won through FAAB relatively early in the season. This is because I believe later FAAB victories – even at high price points – are a slightly different situation. At that point, the big spenders likely have much more FAAB than many of their competing owners, so they aren’t giving away as much. In fact, in July and beyond their FAAB dollars “need a home” and often the larger bids reflect the fact that they need to buy something with these assets.

So I made an arbitrary cutoff of the first ten FAAB runs. This takes us through May 30th, which therefore means our analysis is examining big additions over the first two months of the season.

Next, I wanted the players that were expensive. So in order to be considered, these players needed to attract at least 10 winning bids of $100 or more in FAAB. And even among these players, I wanted to examine the teams that spent the MOST on those potential assets – these owners wanted to bid heavily to be as sure as possible to acquire them. I was not interested in looking at the owners that won these players at a (relative) bargain. Obviously, we know inherently that it is always better to acquire players cheaply. But what we are looking at here is – how did the teams do that did not try to get a FAAB bargain perform? Did it hurt their final standing; was it just a random event; or did it actually help to spend early? Inquiring minds want to know!

Players Considered Big Early Acquisitions

Thirteen players made the cut – having been added in the first 10 FAAB runs and with at least 10 winning bids over $100. Interestingly, 10 of these 13 were pitchers – 5 closer candidates and 5 starters.

In this first chart, you see the 13 players with the dollars bid – the total number of teams that acquired them and the total number of teams that won them at over $100 FAAB. I have also provided the highest and lowest winning bids for your information.

How Well Did These 13 Players Perform?

I awarded grades of A (best adds) to F (worst adds) based on their performance over both the first three weeks after acquisition and the total season of work. The grades were distributed as follows:

  • A grade pickups: 3
  • B grade pickups: 3
  • C grade pickups: 1
  • D grade pickups: 3
  • F grade pickups: 3

I think it is important to see the value that fantasy owners got right after acquisition when these players were generally all in the active lineups. If they performed well in the initial three weeks this solidified a reasonably good grade even if they dropped off later – because the player could be benched or dropped and the good stats could be banked.

For example, Yermin Mercedes came out strong and had a nice performance in the first three weeks. Even though he tailed off and was a drop later, I believe he gave the acquiring owners reasonable value. Similarly, Cesar Valdez provided some good early saves and even though he lost the closer role eventually, he was a relatively painless drop. The easiest players to grade were the A’s and F’s, but the added players graded in the middle were a little more difficult. For example, Alex Wood was a very good acquisition – but I held him back to a B because he steadily declined and didn’t give great results later in the season. Similarly, Logan Gilbert was good – he just never gave the really strong ERA and Wins that was hoped.

The proof is in the pudding: Where Did Acquiring Teams Finish in their League’s Final Standings?

If these bids had relatively little impact on the final standings, we’d expect a roughly equal distribution of teams that employed this strategy:

  • Top third (first through fifth): 33%
  • Middle third (sixth through tenth); 33%
  • Bottom third (eleventh through fifteenth): 33%

However, it turns out that most of the heavy winning bidders on these 13 players in the first two months finished in the middle third or the last third of the standings (see below). Since we looked at the top ten bidders for each of these 13 players, there were 130 teams to consider. I found that a relatively high 97 of these teams (or 74.6%) of these squads finished 6th through 15th (when we would expect 66.6% to do so if this were random). More importantly, just 33 of 130 (25.4%) finished in the top third (when we’d anticipate 33.3% if this were random). And – this isn’t in the chart but – only 17 teams ended up cashing in the top three spots (13.1%) when a random theory would indicate that you’d find 26 (or 20%).

What If This Analysis was Limited to the 6 BEST Free Agent Acquisitions?

But some fantasy owners are better at evaluating talent than others. For example, some would say that Phil Dussault is better than I am (OK, OK, you don’t all have to agree so quickly!). What if we knew which 6 players were turning out the best (Valdez, Trivino, Wood, McClanahan, Gilbert, and Manoah) and only looked at teams that acquired them? Does the distribution change significantly?

Surprisingly, at least to me, it doesn’t change all that much. We’re now looking at 60 teams, and 73.3% finished in the bottom two-thirds of Main Event leagues, with 26.7% in the top third. And there were just 8 of these 60 teams that finished in the money (13.3%), just about the same as before.

Conclusions

Obviously, there are many ways to do this analysis. I could have looked at all acquiring teams over $100 for these 13 players. I also could have expanded and looked at ALL Main Event acquisitions over $100, even the one-off players that were dropped in one league or had one or two random large bids. But I think this analysis shows what it set out to do – that it is not overly helpful to go for a big early acquisition – even when that player turns out reasonably well – IF YOU ACQUIRE THE PLAYER BY SPENDING IN THE TOP TEN IN ORDER TO GET HIM. Many teams might have benefited if they added these players more cheaply, but based on this I cannot endorse the strategy of opening up the wallet early to ENSURE that you get the big free-agent target.

Todd Whitestone

Todd Whitestone

Writer for SPstreamer.com focusing on the NFBC Main Event

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